Replacing Bondo Bushes with Schools Rosengbeh and Matotoka, Sierra Leonego Back
This project idea was developed by our local partner NGO, AIM, with the purpose of empowering girls and women and providing them with an education in order to prepare them for an autonomous future. Its focus is one of AIM’s main goals: to eliminate harmful traditional practices such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) whilst preserving the beauty of the Bondo Society.
The goal of the project, led by AIM, supported by PfefferminzGreen and largely funded by the BMZ, is to replace the traditional Bondo Bush (isolated forested areas where initiations into the Bondo Society take place) rituals with formal schooling. For centuries, the Bondo Bush has been considered an important cultural place where girls are prepared for their future roles as women. After staying there for several weeks and receiving an informal education from Soweis (women who practice FGM) in various traditional skills, the girls become members of the Bondo Society. Unfortunately, one of the main criteria for official membership is undergoing FGM. AIM is working towards erasing this ritual completely and as part of this, promoting the construction of formal schools at which, in addition to “regular” subjects, there will be a special focus on educating children about Sierra Leonean traditions and the wide-ranging harmful effects of FGM.
Following the ground-breaking success of late 2019, when the first official Bondo Society initiation took place without the requirement of FGM, AIM and PfefferminzGreen are now promoting the concept in other communities throughout Port Loko District and beyond its border. One of the main objectives is the construction of more schools at which boys and girls will both receive primary and secondary education. A high percentage of girls drop out of school after primary school here; in order to help them to progress past this level, it is essential to involve parents, grandparents and other community members in the project in order to establish a common understanding of the benefits of girls’ education. AIM works in a holistic way, engaging every member of the girls’ families and creating awareness programs in order to effect sustainable change.
Another factor in AIM’s success has been the increasing support for the project from ex-Soweis. AIM’s director Rugiatu Neneh Turay and her team hold awareness campaigns all over Sierra Leone, educating Soweis, stakeholders and community chiefs on the dangers of FGM. Numerous Soweis have declared that they will now abstain from using FGM and instead carry out other rites of passage, and the stakeholders and chiefs of the Rosengbeh and Matotoka communities have committed to replacing their local Bondo Bushes with newly-built schools.
The first steps have been taken, the bushes have been cleared and the foundations for the two schools have been laid. The construction will be finished within a few months and soon girls from the local communities will have the opportunity to receive an education as well as gain membership into their traditional secret society without having to undergo FGM.